Possible naked eye comet on the rise

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June 8 2010 2:15 PM

Possible naked eye comet on the rise

If you're an early riser in the mid-northern latitudes of our planet (and statistically speaking, the odds are good for the latter part), then there's a comet you might want to check out.

Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1) is currently moving rapidly across the northern sky, and it's just on the edge of being bright enough to see with your unaided eye. Over the next few days it may even get bright enough to see easily in dark skies.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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This picture, taken by Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero, shows the comet and its long tail. It's a multiple exposure centered on the comet, which is why you see several star images for each star. You won't get a view this nice (probably) with binoculars, but you should be able to spot the tail.

The CometChasing website provides a helpful map of the comet's location over the next few days. On June 21 it's pretty close to the bright star Capella (one of the brightest in the sky) but it's not known how bright the comet will be by then. Also, McNaught reaches perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun) on July 2/3, so it'll be tough to see in a few weeks (though probably brighter; as they gets closer to the Sun most comets get much brighter, but their proximity to the Sun makes them very difficult to spot). With comets it's always good to get them while the getting's good. Go look now!

You can find more info on the Cometography site, a spectacular picture on APOD, and an interesting animated GIF showing the motion of the comet, too.

As a bonus for early risers, Jupiter and Uranus will have a series of close approaches to each other in the sky, so you can check that out as well.